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Case Study Pinpoints Elements of Wrongful Convictions

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The Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University has distinguished 10 of the most common components that lead to wrongful convictions. Lawyer, social scientist, and American University Professor Jon Gould conducting the three year study, “Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice.” The researchers used 460 cases from between 1980 and 2012 for their study. All the cases were either “near miss” cases — where a person was wrongly arrested by released before prosecution — or wrongful convictions. The researchers concluded the most common components of wrongful convictions are:

      • State’s death penalty culture
      • Strength of prosecution’s case
      • Strength of defendant’s case
      • Prosecution withholding evidence
      • Forensic evidence errors
      • Defendant’s age
      • Defendant’s criminal history
      • Intentional misidentification
      • Dishonesty from non-eyewitnesses
      • Family witnesses testifying for defendant

Gould believes the paths to wrongful convictions begin in the interrogation room and suggests police make checklists and be proactive with forensic testing. Several of these factors are obviously discriminatory such as the defendant’s age and criminal background.

Regrettably, this discrimination happens on a reoccurring basis and no one should have to be penalized for a crime they didn’t commit whether it is due to their past, perjury, or the hidden motives of a legal team. At the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, we are incessantly working to prevent and bring attention to these transgressions within the legal system.

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